11/6/20 The origin of “日本(Nihon/Nippon)”

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Jun 20, 2011 20:49
Caution! Because I do not major in history, I may make mistakes in the following content. Please take my entry with a grain of salt.

I wrote about the origin of “Japan”. If you become interested in the origin of Japan, could you look at this entry of mine?

I will write about the origin of “日本” in this entry.

First, we Japanese people call our country “Nihon” or “Nippon”.

There are many theories about its origin. So, I will introduce the most leading one to you.

According to this theory, “Nihon” was devised about A.D. 700. However, the stimulating event which led to the creation of “Nihon” happened in A.D 607.

At this point, 隋(Sui), which was one of the Chinese Dynasties, had dominant power in Asia. This country constructed the system called “冊封体制(sakuhou taisei)”. This system is a kind of international relationship. Under this system, while China was suzerain, other countries around her were subject states. In a theory, at this time, the GDP of China was about 100times greater than those of other countries such as Japan and Korea etc. Therefore, it was quite natural that Japan obeyed China (Sui).

By the way, this system is very imperialistic, isn’t it? I think countries which have dominant power on other countries tend to do the similar things.

Well, under this system, our country Japan was called “倭” or “委”. Both of them are pronounced “wa”. At this time, they meant “stupid” or “disturbed” or “distorted”…. These kanji had very bad images. However, now “委” has no such meanings and “倭” is rarely used.

There was a key person whose name is “聖徳太子(Shoutoku Taishi)”. He was a regent of 推古天皇(Emperor Suiko). He is said to have been very brilliant ,and there are many legends about him.

On A.D 607,in behalf of Emperor Suiko he sent a letter to an emperor of Sui煬帝(Emperor Yung). In this letter, he said “日出ずる国の天子、日没する国の天子に書を致す”. This sentence can be translated into English as “The emperor (=Emperor Suiko) of the country from which the sun rises sent this letter to the emperor (=Emperor Yung) of the country into which the sun sets.” It is said that Emperor Yung was furious at this letter as soon as he read it. This is very natural considering the power relationship between the two countries.

However, this was his purpose. He would like to show that Japan was not “倭” and that Emperor Suiko and her country(i.e. Japan) wished to be on equal terms with Sui (i.e. China).

“日本(Nihon/Nippon)” means the base of the sun because “日” means “the sun” and “本” means “base”. (If you learn Japanese, you know these kanji have other more basic and commonly-used meanings. For example, “日” often means “day” etc.) Because the meaning of “the base of the sun” is very similar to that of “the country from which the sun rises”, the origin of “日本” is said to be that letter.

As a result, in the historical books which were made in 唐Tang(This was one of the Chinese Dynasties and was preceded by 隋(Sui).), our country was called “日本国(Country of Nihon)”.

As I mentioned above, there are many theories about it. And, some of them say that his letter was not related with the origin of “Nihon”. Also, some history scholars say that the man whose name was “聖徳太子” must not have existed.

If you have any questions, criticisms, reviews or anything else, please tell me in the comment section, or send me a message. I would appreciate it if you could correct my entry.
Thank you for reading my English.